September 30, 2016
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Jason Sudekis, left, and Zach Galifianakis star in “Masterminds.” ( relativity media photo )

‘Masterminds’ is goofy fun, but not a masterpiece

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There’s a certain subset of the population that may find Zach Galifianakis in a ridiculous hairdo the height of comedy. If you are in that segment, welcome, join us. You’ll find much merriment in the lightweight and very silly comedy “Masterminds,” which is astonishingly based on the true story of one of the largest cash robberies in the United States. Also, Galifianakis sports a variety of insane wigs and ’dos, from a long blonde number, to a kinky black perm, to his own Prince Valiant bob, styled for the heavens.

“Masterminds” is a small, very strange film, and definitely doesn’t enter the upper echelons of director Jared Hess’ oeuvre, which includes the wacky comedy classics “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre,” or even the best work of its stars. Nevertheless, the marriage of the insane 1997 true crime story and the murderer’s row of comic performers results in copious laughter.

Galifianakis plays aw-shucks naif David Ghantt, an employee of armored truck company Loomis Fargo, trapped in a loveless engagement with Jandice (an unblinking Kate McKinnon), carrying a torch for his co-worker, sassy Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly and her petty thief buddy Stephen (Owen Wilson) hatch a plan to rob the company vault, and ensnare lovelorn David into their plot as their inside man.

Riveting ‘Deepwater Horizon’ captivates throughout

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We all know how “Deepwater Horizon ” ends. When the BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, 11 people died and millions of gallons of oil spewed into the waters and up against the Gulf shores in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The story of the aftermath, even 6 years later, is still being written. The how-did-it-happen is another thing, and the point of director Peter Berg’s intensely thrilling indictment of the greed and gross negligence that contributed to the horrific outcome.

Wee, weird heroes star in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home’

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Fall has officially just started, but there’s still one more superhero flick sneaking in just before all the summer heat vanishes completely. But if you want muscled torsos and capes, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

After a steady stream this year of Batman, Superman, Captain America, X-Men and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s time now for a group of kids who float, are invisible, who spark fire, manipulate plants, control bees and give life to inanimate objects. Not really X-Men, exactly. Call them X-Tweens.

‘Queen of Katwe’ is an irresistible joy

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Just try to resist the charms of Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” a triumph-of-the-human-spirit movie that’s ultimately, well, triumphant. The story — a true one, as you’ll be reminded in the delightful end credits — is one of those irresistible underdog tales: Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl growing up in poverty in the slums of Katwe, Uganda, learns unexpectedly that she has a knack for chess. With the help of a kind mentor, Robert (David Oyelowo), and the support — if not always the understanding — of her fiercely loving widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), Phiona works hard to achieve her dream of becoming a chess champion.

You’ve likely seen a hundred movies with a similar arc (seems like I’ve seen a hundred of them already this year), but there’s a reason: when it works, it works. “Queen of Katwe,” for all its familiarity, is a family film in the best sense of the phrase. It’s suitable for all ages (though its two-hour running time may be a challenge for young squirmers), and it celebrates the bonds of family: both the one we are born into, and the one that we acquire.

Fall Movie Preview: Films to watch this season

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Welcome to autumn, when studios large and small roll out what cynics might call “Oscar bait” and others might call “movies for actual adults” (and still others, probably younger than 8 years old, might call “boring”).

Until Dec. 16, that is, when roughly everyone will go see the new “Star Wars” movie, the second in two years. This is the new normal, people — a Star Wars movie every year. And look for a few other sci-fi movies packed into the Christmas season, perhaps piggy-backing o”Rogue One”

‘The Magnificent Seven’ rides again, with more guns

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Deciding to remake “The Magnificent Seven ” with a fresh batch of movie stars is certainly no sin. John Sturges’ 1960 tome, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic “Seven Samurai,” is a fun confection of star power and charismatic bravado, sure, but held in such high esteem probably more because of Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score than anything else. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a ragtag group of outlaws banding together to defeat a powerful bully?

But director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t exactly elevate that now well-trod premise in this dutiful and solid rehashing of the seven gunmen who attempt to save a terrorized town, even if he does up the shoot-’em-up action (and body count). Bernstein’s score is given a few nods throughout the film, but saved in full for the final credits. Thus, it’s left to the actors to carry us through the over two-hour running time.

‘Storks’ is a weird, wacky bundle of joy

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Welcome to the very strange, and strangely moving, world of “Storks.” Writer-director Nicholas Stoller, known for his more adult comedies, such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Neighbors,” delves into the family-friendly animated genre in a little movie about where babies come from. Or where they used to come from. In this world, the old wives tale of storks delivering bouncing bundles of joy is real history, though the birds have been relegated to delivering packages for CornerStore.com after one became too attached to a baby.

Stoller teams up with experienced animator Doug Sweetland for directing duties, and the story balances the fantasy world with more mundane realities. The film starts out as a workplace sitcom, as our protagonist, Junior the stork (Andy Samberg), is fired up for a promotion from boss Hunter (Kelsey Grammar). Unfortunately, accident-prone human orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) just keeps getting in his way. She’s the baby at the center of the stork-attachment incident, and she’s been raised in the warehouse.

Bridget makes welcome return in ‘Baby’

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What a treat it is to dive back into the cozy world of Bridget Jones, who is the kind of old friend you can pick up with right where it left off, no matter how long it’s been. “Bridget Jones’s Baby” opens with a familiar scene for our pal: Bridget (Renee Zellweger) celebrating her birthday alone to the tune of “All By Myself,” blowing out a candle on a single cupcake, guzzling white wine in her jammies. The pity party’s over soon enough though, as she skips the song and boogies instead to “Jump Around.” Has Bridget Jones gotten her groove back?

She does, in fact, have a groove, perhaps for the first time. She’s a producer on the television program “Hard News,” still has her great group of friends, even though they’re now all saddled with kids, and has achieved her ideal weight. But Bridget’s always been one for self-improvement, so when it comes to her love life, she’s is determined to make new mistakes, not old ones.

No shades of gray in disappointing ‘Snowden’

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“Snowden,” Oliver Stone’s biopic about the world’s most famous National Security Agency whistleblower, certainly deals with an urgent and important issue: state surveillance, and how far is too far for the government to go.

Edward Snowden’s personal story — a hero to some, turncoat to others — is as compelling as they come, too. It’s not every day that a high-school dropout turned wannabe Army grunt becomes a CIA/NSA operative who leaks sensitive files and then flees the country, ending up in Russia.

Hanks and crew soar in ‘Sully’

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The sight of a passenger plane along the skyline of New York is an image that has been seared in the global collective consciousness. It’s a memory that “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s new film, acknowledges, but also attempts to redefine. What if a plane skimming skyscrapers could conjure an image not just of unimaginable terror, but one of incredible heroism and skill? That’s what “Sully” might accomplish, in committing to film the heartwarming story of “The Miracle on the Hudson,” when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a forced water landing on the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard a U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte.

Eastwood is an efficient, restrained and methodical filmmaker, an approach that lends well to the temperament and character of Sully, as he is portrayed by Tom Hanks. What’s remarkable about the incident as we see it on screen, is just how calm everyone remains throughout the 208 second ordeal. Perhaps because they didn’t know just how amazing this feat would be, but also because everyone is just doing their jobs very, very well. From the air traffic controller to the ferry captains to Sully himself, along with his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and the flight attendants, every player is professional, motivated and exceedingly helpful.

‘Wild Life’ imagines Robinson Crusoe tale from animals’ perspective

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The tale of Robinson Crusoe, loosely based on the real life experiences of castaway Alexander Selkirk, has been told for hundreds of years, since Daniel Defoe’s 1719 epistolary novel. But what if Crusoe’s story had been seen from the perspective of the animals and local wildlife he encountered during his shipwrecked stay on a tropical island? That’s what the animated feature “The Wild Life,” directed by Vincent Kesteloot, imagines.

“The Wild Life” is produced by Nwave Pictures, a Belgian animation studio, and the film has a different feel than most of the heavily joke-driven animated features produced stateside. There’s much more of a historical action-adventure storyline in the telling of Crusoe’s story, as related by curious parrot Mak, or Tuesday (David Howard) as Crusoe calls him.

‘The Light Between Oceans’ doesn’t quite connect emotionally

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With “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” filmmaker Derek Cianfrance has proved that he has a knack for both intimate romantic fables and sweeping family epics that span decades. In his adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s 2012 debut novel “The Light Between Oceans,” Cianfrance makes a film that is both epic and intimate, a love story intertwined with tragedy. In stars Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, he finds performers who manage to deftly inhabit the characters, and just keep it from tipping over into Nicholas Sparks-style soapy melodrama.

“The Light Between Oceans” boasts fine performances and exquisite filmmaking in the cinematography, production, sound and costume design, and it’s almost enough to shake off the clingy soapy residue that comes with the romantic drama territory. It’s 1918 Australia, and Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) a veteran of the Great War, is seeking some solitude in order to process his experience. He takes a post as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, and en route to his new home, catches the eye of a young local woman, Isabel (Vikander). After a picnic and some letter-writing, the two are married and start a life for two isolated on Janus.

‘Morgan’ goes from great to grisly in second half

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It wouldn’t be fair to compare father and son, but Ridley Scott’s progeny, Luke Scott, takes on some similar themes to his father’s work in his feature directorial debut, “Morgan.” In a story that contemplates the emotional boundaries and consequences of artificial intelligence, Seth W. Owen’s script landed on the 2014 Black List of Best Unproduced Screenplays, and in Scott, “Morgan” finds an appropriate marriage between material, filmmaker, and yes, family legacy.

While Deckard was compelled by the state to hunt for replicants in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” in “Morgan,” artificial intelligence is a privatized affair. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate fixer/troubleshooter, is dispatched to a remote wooded lab facility to check on the status of one of her company’s assets — a young girl known as Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) to her ad-hoc family of scientist caretakers.

‘Hell or High Water’ is intense modern Western

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In the desolate Texas of “Hell or High Water,” a bank clerk (Dale Dickie) gently sasses the ski-masked robbers with the condescending assessment, “y’all are new at this.” That’s the world created by director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan in this post-recession Western, which plays like a Johnny Cash song come to life. All the adventures and angst of the good bad guys that Cash sang about are on screen, in this tale of men fighting for prosperity in a world that’s no longer made for them.

“Hell or High Water” is a film of parallel pairs — bank robbing brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), and the Texas Rangers on their tail, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Both are odd couples, volleying nuggets of folksy, genial wisecracks back and forth, on an ambling collision course toward violence and blood. But they agree on a common enemy that also happens to be a victim here — Texas Midlands Bank.

De Niro, Ramirez enter the ring in ‘Hands of Stone’

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“Hands of Stone ” is a sprawling yet fairly conventional biopic about the Panamanian boxing champion Roberto Duran — a man The Associated Press once declared the 7th greatest fighter and No. 1 lightweight of the 20th century. For the uninitiated, the title refers to Duran’s nickname. He was known for packing a mighty hit and (usually) winning.

When he faced Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in 1980, he was 71-1. He won that match too, only to forfeit it six months later in a bizarre re-match that’s become known as the “No Mas Fight.” Popular myth would have us all believe that Duran said “No Mas” to end the match partway through. He’d fallen out of shape in the months between the two fights.

‘Don’t Breathe’ is a well-plotted, thriller

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To all you Detroit-area robbery crews, we should probably warn you right away: It’s just not a good idea to pick 1837 Buena Vista Street for your big — and final — score. Take our word for it, walk away.

Sure, it sounds like an easy hit. The address is a home in a run-down section of the city, so there’s nobody around. The house is kind of moldering, too. And, yes, the owner is an old blind man living alone who apparently has a fortune stashed somewhere. But, listen, let this one go.

Gorgeous ‘Kubo’ is a wonderful adventure fantasy

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Even in this heyday of computer-animated movies, the greatest special effect is creating emotionally resonant characters. The adventure fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings” is seamless stop-motion storytelling from Laika, the independent animation studio that gave us the darkly entertaining “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”

Yet wizardly art direction isn’t the film’s most striking quality. It’s the endearing, playful, touching, cantankerous and sometimes frightening individuals who supply this spectacular story about friendship, courage and sacrifice with its life force.

Biblical epic ‘Ben-Hur’ plays it (too) straight

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“Ben-Hur” and Charlton Heston go together like sword and sandal, the two being inextricably linked in the public mind.

But the new, $100 million version of Ben-Hur owes less to the well-known 1959 big-screen epic in which Heston starred than to the 1880 Lew Wallace novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” on which both are based.

‘War Dogs’ tells a crazy but lazy story of young arms dealers

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“War Dogs ” is too good of a true story not to get the Hollywood treatment, even if the end result doesn’t entirely do justice to the moral ambiguities and larger geopolitical implications of one of the craziest hustles in modern American history.

Essentially, in 2007, a couple of 20-something stoners from Miami Beach landed a nearly $300 million contract from the Department of Defense to supply ammunition to the Afghan military. And, unbeknownst to the U.S. government at the time, many of the supplies they were selling were over 40 years old and basically unusable.

‘Pete’s Dragon’ (pleasantly) stays earthbound

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NEW YORK — After an exhausting summer buffet of set pieces, superheroes and whatever s-word you might use for “Suicide Squad,” the gentle “Pete’s Dragon” is a welcome palate cleanser. Where other summer movies are chest-thumping, it’s quiet; where others are brashly cynical, it’s sweetly sincere; where others are lacking in giant cuddly dragons, “Pete’s Dragon” has one.

Few may remember the 1977 Disney original, in which a young boy’s best friend was a bubbly dragon invisible to others. As part of Disney’s continuing effort to remake its animated classics in live-action, “Pete’s Dragon” has been confidently reborn as an earnest tale of green-winged wonder.

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ hits too many sour notes

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There are times when it is obvious that the star of a movie has more invested in the project as a potential way to win awards than entertaining the audience. It may not be a conscious decision to approach the work that way, but the results are the same.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” comes across as one of those kinds of projects. It looks like a production designed more to be a lure for Meryl Streep to be nominated for awards than it is intended to be a solid overall movie. And, she’s Streep. Even a home video of Streep on Facebook would get Oscar consideration.

GO Kenosha

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